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Thoughts on Rose Gardening

Roses gardening is seductive and challenging. Here are some concepts for the beginner and the frustrated.

The following point is important enough to state right from the start: For most, success with roses will be mostly about picking a cultivar that is easy to grow and then taking the time to dig a deep hole in a sunny spot. Fill the gigantic hole with compost and a banana peel or two and then water diligently (mornings only) the first year. Such a plan is not beginner gardening. It’s being smart and many experienced gardeners would proceed in a similar manner to what I just described.

Continuing on…

Rose gardeners fall into two categories: those prepared to invest maximum effort and those who are not. Both groups can succeed. I have complete respect for dedicated rose gardeners…a breed apart. However, I would not dream of specifying roses in a landscape unless the client specifically made the request. Many rose cultivars have extremely specific cultivation requirements if one wishes to prevent blackspot, rust, and mildew.

Despite claims of disease resistance in modern varieties, there is very little evidence that things are any better now than a decade or two ago. Knock Out roses are an exception. Of course, one could look to the old roses.

francis dubreil
Francis Dubreil – old, fragrant, beautiful in form.

To be a rose gardener it helps if you love roses with all your heart. More, rose gardening is about tenacity.

If you are not willing or able to dedicate yourself fully to rose gardening, consider the old roses, many of which are disease resistant and look great in the landscape. Many old roses only bloom once per year, but the old roses tend to be beautiful throughout three seasons. Of course, for most, it is about the flowers…

Many modern roses are about the flower and rarely about the plant and its place in the landscape.

How often have you remarked ‘what a great looking rose bush’?

rose koko loko
Floribunda rose ‘Koko Loko’ – achingly beautiful, and not a bad looking shrub.

In landscape design, we think about how a plant fits into its surroundings. In perennial gardening, considering that many perennials are in bloom for 3-6 weeks it is crucial their foliage supports the garden even when the plant is not in bloom.

We grow roses for the flower. Breeders know this. Our ideal, changing slowly, is of a rose high-centered and long-stemmed. Breeders know this as well. Beautiful roses look great on magazine covers and catalogs (and Pinterest). Thus many roses of the past 40 years have been bred to emulate florists roses.

rose gardening
Climbing rose New Dawn is disease resistant and gorgeous

Your rose gardening experiences are likely tied to your climate.

To establish whether a rose will do well consult gardeners in your area (the rose forum at Gardenweb/Houzz is a brilliant resource for this). I’ve spent too much time reading spats among rival rose gardeners where one says their rose is a blackspot magnet only to be shouted down by others who report only excellent disease resistance. By the way, the term ‘blackspot magnet’ is a favorite of rose gardening forum dwellers describing a rose susceptible to blackspot that is about to be ‘shovel-pruned’.

It is possible that one gardener is simply more accomplished, but all things being equal, the climates where they garden are the direct correlation to their experiences.

For example, blackspot thrives in humid climates. Spores have to stay wet for several hours to germinate. Temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit inhibit blackspot. Theoretically, a gardener who lives in a warm, dry climate and waters via perforated hoses on the ground might be mystified by reports of a rose being susceptible to blackspot in Georgia.

If there is a rose cultivar you want to try, then give it a go. There is a chance that your efforts may pay where others have failed. Maybe do a little research online to learn about particular rose diseases in your area.

shrub roses
Carefree Beauty – one of the easier roses to grow, and it’s a good-looking shrub.

Rose Gardening Successfully

Establish your level of commitment. If you are prepared to commit to spraying, dedicated rose beds, and proper watering techniques, then the rose world is your oyster. There are thousands of incredible cultivars out there. Join the American Rose Society and do your research and have fun. It will be a rewarding road.

If you are more casual about the whole thing, then buy old roses or Griffith Buck roses or perhaps buy whatever you want and don’t worry about the disappointments…this is actually how I garden. New Dawn is hard to beat.

Consider the growth habit and plant accordingly. For every single garden rose you buy, you should have a clear understanding of the growth habit. Is it tall and lanky or graceful or somewhere between. For the mixed garden, choose growth habit over flower every single time. The heartache of a stiff garden rose in the landscape is not worth a few flowers. If the rose you want is tall, like many of the Grandifloras and Hybrid Teas, then consider a dedicated rose bed. One of the most beautiful rose plantings I ever saw was an entire bed populated with only the stately and statuesque Queen Elisabeth.

Dig big, deep holes. Add lots of compost. Don’t plant too deeply. Don’t water in the evening. Fertilize appropriately. Deadhead when possible.  But mainly, select roses that speak to your heart.

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